Friday, September 20, 2013

Heaven, Hell and Other Life-Affirming Things

     I have been thinking about death lately.  Having just lost a friend and now another friend has informed me of her husband's passing, it is just one of those subjects that is a little hard to ignore.  I thought about the unfairness of death--how it takes those we love away from us.  I came up with "The Unfairness of Death List."  Here goes:

1.  Life is like jumping from a plane with no parachute.  It's exhilarating at first...with the wide blue sky above and the earth far below.  But, as you get older/closer, you realize, hey, there’s no parachute and then comes the big splat—nothing.
2.  Mr. Job of the Old Testament.  He suffers utter loss:  everyone and everything is gone.  His suffering is tremendous and his loss horrible.  How could you not just sit under a tree with him and simply weep?
3.  Life is quite like that cruise ship that sank awhile back.  Everyone plans to have a good life, gets ready and sets sail.  Then this cruise ship ran aground and sank, killing the passengers.  The ones who survived felt (among other things) totally misled:  this was to be a glorious time; instead, many perished.  Life can feel as if we have been gypped.  Duped.  Betrayed.
4.  Death is like a criminal.  It is the ultimate thief:  you set up a beautiful house, reputation, wealth, only to have death break in and steal it.  Jesus observed the irony of placing too much emphasis on things that can be destroyed: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  (Matthew 6:19-21)
5.  Life is not a cabaret, old chum.  Think of the wealthy people who spend a lifetime acquiring money, sometimes to do real good in the world.  Ted Turner owns 20% of American bison on his huge estate in Wyoming.  He is trying to preserve this important part of our nation's history.  But:  all of that wealth will be gone the day he dies.  How unfair it is to work your whole life, only to walk out with nothing.  My father, who grew up rather poor, spent his whole life trying to get ahead, only to die of cancer.  
6.   Those who die leave us alone.  We will never see our loved ones again.  What?  Our relationships are so important and is that really the end?  To see those we love only to turn to dust?  What if we cannot be by the bedside and say good-bye?  Or there is no body to bring home, mourn and then bury?  Unfair, unfair, unfair.

     Now, let's think about Hell.  How unfair! Wait a minute, though...what if there was NO hell?  
1.  What about those who escape earthly justice?  Hitler killed himself in his bunker before the Russian troops got to where he was.  Himmler, his right hand man, killed himself as well, thereby avoiding trial.  What about these mass shooters who will never go court, having been shot down in a gun battle with police?  The rapist who goes to trial but is not convicted for lack of evidence?  The child molester who never gets caught and then dies...leaving behind an emotional debris trail of broken lives and murdered innocence?  Death for these folks is a kind of escape, away from the judgment of our law.  

     Now, let's think about if there was NO heaven.
1.  Where do the innocent go?  1.3 million children perished in the Holocaust.  Millions have died in abortion, famines, disease, murder and neglect.  It is unfair when a child is buried by a parent.  That is not the order of things.  
2.  It is hard to let someone go, but if you truly believe you will never see them again, would some of us not be as invested in the ones we love?  Our attachment would be limited because our time with them would be limited?
3.  Someone dies in agony.  That's it.  They checked off the planet in pain, only to go into the cold ground.  They are beyond our comfort and the cold earth is inhospitable.  My grandmother did fairly well at the funeral of my grandfather, until after the funeral was over, the caretakers started lowering his casket into the ground.  She burst into tears, fearing it would be too cold for him in the ground.  Her children led her away from the cemetery in tears.

     OK:  let's turn this around.  The very presence of heaven and hell affirm life here.  I contend that without them, life's unfairness is far too overwhelming to contemplate for very long.  Let's see how hell affirms life here and later on:
1.  God doesn't send people to hell.  It's a choice that they have made.  If someone doesn't love God here, why would He grab that person at their death and force them to live with Him forever?  It would be a kind of divine rape:  violating the heart of someone who didn't want to be with God on earth but has to endure Him for eternity is appalling.  Love by definition cannot be forced, and God will not force Himself on us.  Hell is the place people choose to go by their beliefs and the behaviors that result.  They lived a life without God here and thus they will live an eternal life without Him there.
2.  For those who escaped earthly judgement will find a Higher Court of Law is in session.  The judgment will be fair and impartial because the Judge is that way.  No technicalities, no dream team of lawyers working the system for the benefit of the defendant.  God Himself will be the standard:  fiercely loving but fiercely just.

     How does heaven affirm life here and later on?
1.  The blind will see, the lame will walk.  There are no wheelchairs in heaven.  Completely restored, free to laugh, dance and sing, all pain and agony there forgotten, we cannot help but rejoice for those who leave.  
2. The children will gather around Jesus and He will bless them. He blessed them here without reservation; there will be no different: "But Jesus said, 'Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 19:14)  Jesus' lap is big enough for all.
3.  We will see our loves ones again.  But there is a "but"--they need to know Jesus.  This means we will invest not only our love in them but we will pray, share and encourage them about the life to come.  We will raise our children with eternity in mind; we will "preach the Gospel at all times, using words only when necessary."  Life is precious and so is eternity.  
4.  When death takes away our loved ones, we say, "Until we meet again."  We won't say, "Good-bye."

     Now, what about heaven?  Heaven is a place of praise. Why? "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4). All our needs are met, no tragedy to pray through—our lives are now truly centered in just Him. That’s why death-bed confessions don’t bother Jesus—it is better to launch into an eternity with Him, than live a full life and then leave it for an eternity without Him. 
     Heaven and hell affirm life: life has more in store than just what is on this planet.  Suffering will be over, justice will be served, and fairness will reign over all:  "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life."  (Rev. 21:22-27).

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